Arkansas is trying to make sure one of the state's top talents, Malik Monk, ends up in a Razorbacks uniform.
Since Mike Anderson became the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks in the spring of 2011, the Natural State has produced two consensus top-20 recruits. One of them, Archie Goodwin, a five-star shooting guard from Little Rock in the Class of 2012, chose Kentucky. The other, five-star center Bobby Portis, chose Arkansas. The next great recruit in the state is Malik Monk a 6'4", 185-pound shooting guard from Lepanto in the class of 2016, and there is reason to think he will follow the path of Portis, rather than Goodwin.
The Razorbacks were among the first high-major programs to offer Monk a scholarship. His older brother, Marcus, played football and basketball for Arkansas from 2004-09. His cousin, Rashad “Ky” Madden, was a highly regarded point guard recruit who attended East Poinsett County High in Lepanto and started 69 games under Anderson during his four year career with the Razorbacks that ended this spring.
Unsurprisingly, the people in Monk's home state are doing their part to convince him to stay. Jason McMahan, the coach at Bentonville High, where Monk transferred prior to his sophomore season, says during post-game handshake lines players from other teams will sometimes tell Monk, “You’ve gotta go to Arkansas!” Parents relay similar messages, McMahan says, adding that during road trips other fans also express to Monk their desire for him to attend the program they support. Of course, Arkansas partisans aren’t the only people hoping he winds up in Fayetteville. In March, a tweet circulated stating the entire Razorbacks team showed up for one of Monk’s high school games.
“Everybody from the state wants him to come here," Marcus says. "The fan support here is crazy.”
Monk was identified as a top-flight recruit at an early age, but one game last summer significantly elevated his stature. At an Elite Youth Basketball League event in Sacramento, Calif., Monk dropped 59 points—on 15-of-27 shooting, with 10 three-pointers and a 19-of-23 performance from the free-throw line—in a game against All Ohio Red. Even though his Arkansas Wings team lost, the performance served notice that Monk is one of the top scorers in his class. About a month later, he scored 54 points over two games in one day, then delivered a 40-point performance at the Peach Jam, the final event on the EYBL season. Along the way, Monk garnered national attention with his electric style of play.
Though he is listed as a “shooting guard” by recruiting services, Monk often handles the ball for his high school and AAU teams. “I describe myself as a guard,” Monk says. “I play with the ball or off the ball.” While he potentially could be deployed at both backcourt positions in college or the NBA depending on the team he plays for, Monk’s best attribute is his scoring. As a junior at Bentonville this season, he averaged 26.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 48.4% from the field and 34.8% from behind the three-point line and led the Tigers to the class 7A state championship game.
Monk is also being pursued by elite programs like Florida, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina, each of which has won a national title in the past decade. So what are the chances the Razorbacks, who haven't even been to the Sweet 16 since 1996 but are coming off a 27-win season, can land him?
Monk said that location is “really not” factoring into his thinking and that when evaluating schools, he’s looking for the following qualities: “Good coaching staff that’ll push me on and off the court, great teammates and [an] up-and-down pace.” (The Razorbacks have ranked among the nation’s top 25 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo in each of Anderson's four seasons.) Added Marcus, who also serves as executive director of the Arkansas Wings, “We’re not worried about the name across the chest. It’s a decision that’s specifically the best for Malik. This is a time where he can be selfish, and this is a time where I advise him to be selfish, and to make the decision off of what makes him happy and only that.”
If Monk picks the Razorbacks, it would be consistent with many of the state’s top recruits over the last two decades. Since 1998, all but four of the Arkansas-based recruits in the top 100 of the the Recruiting Services Consensus Index—a composite ranking that integrates data from several sources—have chosen the Razorbacks. Among that quartet who went elsewhere are Goodwin and class of 2015 standout KeVaughn Allen, a wing from North Little Rock who signed with Florida but is expected to ask the Gators for a release after the departure of coach Billy Donovan to the NBA. While the RSCI has not posted its initial rankings for the class of 2016, Monk projects to fall somewhere in the top 10. He currently checks in at No. 7 on Rivals.com.
Many Razorbacks fans may have already turned their attention to Monk, but Arkansas is bringing in two promising prospects for the class of 2015. Huntington Prep (W.V.) School power forward forward Ted Kapita and Hickman (Mo.) High point guard Jimmy Whitt and are ranked Nos. 53 and 55, respectively, in the Rivals150. What’s more, the stepfather of Allen, ranked No. 67, said the Razorbacks are in his top three. Still, Monk looms as the main priority in Arkansas, especially for the Razorbacks fans who just want him to stay home.
(*All class rankings are from Rivals.com)
• The Las Vegas Dealers are offering projected NBA draft lottery picks an alternative to college basketball. The owner of the proposed semi-pro team, Cerruti Brown, told Fox5 News that “five” of the nation’s top 25 players would sign on this year to earn $700,000 while playing against European opponents. The team is backed by the company LV Basketball Enterprises, which was registered in Delaware in April. Brown also told SportingNews.com that agreements are already “in the works” to have shoe companies invest in sponsorships for the Dealers and that the team has discussed with UNLV the possibility of staging games at the Thomas and Mack Center.
This venture raises several questions, the most pressing of which is whether players would be willing to reject one-year stints with esteemed college coaches—the chosen path for most lottery picks—in favor of joining a team with no track record that’s owned by an anonymous businessman. Presenting the best high school basketball players in the country with the opportunity to play against quality competition while earning a six-figure salary is an intriguing idea. But for the Dealers, the gulf between “neat concept” and “viable option” remains vast at this point.
• Rick Barnes has plucked two recruits from north of the border since being hired as Tennessee’s head coach in late March. First, the Volunteers signed forward Ray Kasongo, who is from Toronto. Last week, they added Kyle Alexander, a senior at Athlete Institute in Orangeville, Ont. Alexander also garnered scholarship offers from Missouri, Pittsburgh and Rhode Island, among other programs. His older sister, Kayla, played center for four seasons at Syracuse and now plays for the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars.
Alexander and Kasongo join a recruiting class that also includes point guard Lamonte’ Turner, shooting guard Shembari Phillips and small forward Admiral Schofield.
Barnes also reached into Canada for talent during his 17-season tenure at Texas. In the class of 2010, he landed five-star point guard Cory Joseph and five-star center Tristan Thompson, and the next year he got Myck Kabongo, another five-star point guard.
• Wisconsin made a late addition to its 2015 recruiting class on Monday when Andy Van Vliet, a 6'11" forward who played professionally in Belgium, committed to the Badgers. "This is a very exciting opportunity for me and my family. It's a crazy step I'm about to make, but I have confidence in this situation," van Vliet told Rivals.com affiliate BadgerBlitz.com. "I'm more than excited. I'm really ready for the big challenge and can't wait to get started."
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a scout connected to international basketball reached out to the Badgers about Van Vliet, who also received scholarship offers from Saint Mary’s Oklahoma State and Washington State. Van Vliet, who reportedly can speak five languages, visited Wisconsin in late April and was attracted to the school, in part, by its recent success, which includes consecutive Final Four berths. According to the Journal Sentinel, Van Vliet has not yet been cleared to enroll at the school.
Van Vliet is set to become the fifth member of a recruiting class that also features three-star power forward Alex Illikainen, three-star small forward Khalil Iverson, three-star power forward Charlie Thomas and four-star shooting guard Brevin Pritzl. Wisconsin loses three of its top frontcourt players from last season in Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Duje Dukan.
• Maurice O’Field will join Arizona State for the 2015-16 season, the school announced last week. The 6'6" forward averaged 15.8 points and 5.0 rebounds at Midland College last season and committed to Buffalo in March. The Sun Devils hired the Bulls’ former coach, Bobby Hurley, to the same position in early April. Since then, Arizona State has added former Buffalo point guard and second team All-MAC member Shannon Evans, junior college forward Obinna Oleka and O’Field, who reportedly also garnered scholarship offers from Marquette and Maryland, among other programs. In addition, last November the Sun Devils signed JUCO guard Andre Spight.
Arizona State now has 2015 JUCO commitments from Andre Spight, Obinna Oleka and Maurice O'Field. Heck of a JUCO class— Brad Winton (@BradWinton) May 8, 2015
• Rhode Island secured commitments from two players last week. Junior college forward Andre Berry pledged to the Rams on Thursday, and forward Nicola Akele followed suit on Saturday. The 6'8" Akele attented IMG (Fla.) academy after playing professionally in Italy. South Florida and George Washington were among the other schools to offer Akele, according to the Providence Journal. Meanwhile, Berry averaged 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds at New Mexico Military Institute last season.
• K.J. Walton was one of the top uncommitted prospects in the class of 2015 until he pledged to Missouri last week. The 6'3" shooting guard averaged 19.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School last season, according to MaxPreps. Walton, who chose the Tigers over Cincinnati and Xavier, among other programs, is the No. 103 senior in the country. Missouri’s six-member recruiting class already includes three-star guards Martavian Payne, Terrence Phillips and Cullen VanLeer.
• Gary Trent Jr. is now the leading scorer in the Elite Youth Basketball League. The Apple Valley (Minn.) High standout recorded 109 points over a three-game span last weekend, including 43 on 14-of-21 shooting in a win over the Kentucky Travelers. Trent Jr., the No. 45 player in the class of 2017, has drawn scholarship offers from Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State, among other programs. The 6'5" guard is the son of Gary Trent, who played nine seasons in the NBA after starring at Ohio University.
• It’s not clear whether LaGerald Vick will begin his college basketball career this season or next season, but two of the top programs in the country are involved in his recruitment. Vick will visit Kansas and Kentucky within the next week after taking a recent trip to Kansas State, ESPN reported. The 6'5" shooting guard reclassified to 2016 when he committed to Southern Methodist last October, but reportedly could consider a move back to the class of 2015. He is the No. 137 junior in the nation.
• Ebuka Izundu committed to Miami. The 6’10’’ center averaged 21 points, 15.2 rebounds and six blocks last season at Victory Christian (N.C.) Center. A three-star prospect in the class of 2015, Izundu signed with Charlotte in November, but was released from his Letter of Intent following the departure of coach Alan Major. He drew interest from Clemson and Georgetown, among other schools, and reportedly took recent visits to Cincinnati and Tennessee.
• Georgia Southern added high major-caliber talent to its 2015 recruiting class. Three-star point guard Tookie Brown signed with Mississippi State last November but decided to reopen his recruitment in April. On Thursday, he announced that he has committed to the Eagles. The 5'11'' Brown was named the Georgia AAA player of the year.